by Tim Wenzell
Edward Fizzle was up to his waist in snow and searching for the
tractor keys when he noticed a sizable chunk of ice fall from the
gutter of the barn and strike one of his father's cows directly on the head.
His father had just plowed the pasture, and the cow, whose skull had
punctured from the sharp missile, wobbled in a shaky gait across a wide
patch of ice. It turned and flashed the whites of it eyes at Edward,
and, in a fatal squeal, it crashed sideways into the fence and slid like
an upended ship to the frozen ground.
"Well I'll be as damned as anybody," Edward called out. He stopped his
search for the tractor keys, ready to leap in several long hurdles out
of the snow bank to help the poor fallen creature. Then he eyed the
back door of the house: his father would be out to inspect the cow, and
Edward had to have the keys or he would be beaten again with the belt
and sent to the cold loft for another long night. He retraced his deep
footprints to the barn, watching for a gleam of steel that might shine
up and deliver him from another punishment. He had circled the barn
several times, and now he stood and looked at the infinite trail of
footprints circling round and round. "What in hell was I thinking?" he
asked to the dead cow. "How could I be like I am?"
Edward looked up at the ice hanging from the barn's roof. He was
certain that he had loosened some icicles up by stamping his feet into the
snow as he tramped around the edges of the barn. "I warmed the earth
and shook them up and killed that damned cow," he whispered in a frosty
ball of air. He feared that his father would reason the same thing
when he saw the idiotic circles, so he began to scoop handfuls of snow
from a fresh bank to cover his footprints, working at such a frantic pace
that he began to gasp for air. All the while he watched the back door
as he shoveled new snow into his tracks. He continued until he reached
the back of the barn.
In his reasoning, Edward did not consider that the sun, which had begun
to thaw the ice, had actually loosened the weapon from the gutter. His
father would no doubt see the water dripping from the ends of the
icicles above him and in his infinite unidiotic wisdom he would know
immediately what natural elements had conspired to kill his cow. In truth,
he would never have considered blaming his son for this one; there would
be no reason at all to send him to the loft.
Edward had built a considerable coating of sweat in his frantic
cover-up, which had soaked the clothes beneath his winter coat. He stopped to
gather more winter air into his lungs. "Oh Holy Jesus," he suddenly
exclaimed. "I've covered my tracks and now I'll never find those keys."
His heart raced as the back door slammed, as his father plunged in deep
leaps across the field.. "Shelley, Shelley," he called. He made his way
through the snow, then walked across the frozen pasture to the dead
cow lying along the fence. He knelt before the still animal, ran his
gloves along the already-cold hide, and turned back to look at Edward, who
had just dropped his handfuls of snow.
"Icicle killed her," Edward called out. He pointed nervously to the
barn roof. "Saw the whole thing. Came down like a rocket."
"Get over here you idiot," his father screamed. Edward retraced his
last uncovered prints, his eyes down in one last search. He stepped across
the plowed land, feeling as if he had ventured into a ring in which he
would have to confront his father for some bogus championship. He
looked to the farmhouse for his mother in
the hopes that the match could be warded off by the smell of pot roast
"You stood out here and let Shelley die?" His father got up from his
knees and moved closer; Edward guarded his face with a nervous
revolution of hands.
"Wasn't much I could do," he replied. "Snow was deep, thing came down
like a rocket."
"Rocket schmocket." He whacked Edward across the back of his skull and
dislodged his cap. "What were you doing out by the barn anyway? I
thought I told you to get the drive plowed."
Now Edward envisioned the tractor, still covered in snow, parked along
the fence just behind the barn. He was going to have to explain the
lost keys now and prepare his bed in the loft for another cold night. He
remembered the last time he had slept there, just three nights ago,
when the wind whipped up a ferocious noise all through the rafters and
sent him into a long fit of nightmares from which faceless men with
pitchforks, fanged farm animals, and an army of monster fathers arose.
Besides all that, his hands and feet, despite being buried in straw as he
thrust about in his sleep, had nearly frozen. He could feel the fresh
bandages covering his frostbite sores. The gauze slid along the
perspiration beneath his gloves and filled the rims of his eyes with tears.
His father raised a hand again as the icy wind whipped his exposed
face. He stepped away from the carcass.
"Getting to it," Edward said. "It's just that the cow dying kind of
scared me is all." He moved out of range of his father's slap and stepped
back into the snow toward the other side of the barn. Now what? He
searched in silent prayer for the miracle of the discovered keys, for a
little hole in the snow into which he might plunge his hands and
retrieve his benediction. He looked to the sky in hopes that Providence would
arrive on a beam of light and the sound of a jingle. Then he realized
the hopelessness of his search as he crunched through the virgin snow
on his way to the parked tractor. He could feel his father's eyes
watching him, the same way in which he could feel deer watching him through
underbrush as he loaded his rifle on hunting trips. His father walked
out to watch him circle the barn, start the tractor, and head on down to
the foot of the drive to begin three hours worth of plowing. Turning,
he caught his father's frosty breath along the fence, as he stood,
frozen still like an undaunted deer, with hands on hips.
Edward jumped into the tractor seat and pretended to fumble for the
keys in his coat. He gripped the wheel and slid down into the cold seat
so that the encrusted snow soaked through his pants. He looked
straight ahead, hoping that his father would tire of the cold and make a
return to the warm kitchen, where he would inform Edward's mother of the
dead animal and prepare to carve it up: he would need to get it out of
there before it began to rot, peel the good meat away himself with one of
the long blades from the barn.
"Come on, come on, go back inside," Edward willed to the air. Then he
heard the door slam across the fields, and he hunched down into the
seat, sighed a moment's relief, and slid his hand, out of habit, toward the
He wanted to go back inside himself; the aroma of a roast had taken to
the air upon his father's opening of the door, and his stomach seemed
to be pulling him from the seat toward the porch light which his mother
had just flicked on. If she had the courage, she would no doubt have
shouted out to him that dinner was ready and to never mind the unplowed
driveway. If she had the courage she would have lectured his father, as
Edward made his way eagerly through the snow, on the importance of a
warm fire and a hot meal for their son, that a full stomach and a happy
heart were more important things than a cleared driveway. With courage
she would have sat his father down and told him their son could plow
the driveway tomorrow if he could get up a little earlier, and then make
sure that he had second and third helpings. She would have said all of
that if she had the courage. At that, Edward might have had the
courage to point out to the high drifts and say simply 'I lost the keys
somewhere out there. It's just one of those things.' Then he'd watch as
his mother warded off his father's tirade, and with maternal precision,
affirm the importance of securing valuable things. And Edward would
have assured the both of them, as he finished his hot meal, that it would
not happen again.
The biting cold came up in a wall of wind and slammed into Edward's
face with the force of one of his father's slaps. He wouldn't be able to
sit in the seat like this for very long; he would need to think up an
excuse before he made his way back to the house. No matter what he
came up with, it wouldn't do. Fury would fill the house; shouts and
slamming and cursing would shake the foundation. In the aftermath of
slamming doors in which his mother would retire to her room, he would be sent
across the field, with no light at all, to spend another long night in
the barn. The frostbite sores glowed hot beneath his wet gloves and
reminded him of his unpromising future.
The cold had come up suddenly, and he shivered both from the chill of
the evening air and from the fear that he might not make it through the
night this time. "This cold this early in the day means below zero for
sure tonight," he said into the wind.
Out beyond the fence, where the road dipped into the snow-filled
valley, Edward gazed in an unbroken stare and formed a plan. It was not much
of a plan really, more an alternative to what awaited him on his return
to the house. He found, in the sudden drop of light, that he could no
longer bear to slink to his father's chair and, with his head hung in
shame, inform him of another misdeed. He could no longer stand in the
awkward silence of seconds turned hours and await the back of his
father's hand, delivered out of an explosion of rage followed by his unworthy
punishment. One more time he would watch, out of his tearful eyes, as
his mother made her way to the back of the house to shut her bedroom
door. Mostly, though, he could not bear to be called "idiot boy" one
more time. That, more than the sting of his father's slap or the
frostbite descending on his extremities, was what he could no longer take.
That word, 'idiot,' sank down into every fiber of his being like slow
poison. 'Idiot' struck marrow and pushed him like a tack into the wall.
All he wanted was to rise above that, to go on for a time without
committing one single act of stupidity, or to not be reprimanded for some
senseless act he might invariably commit. He wanted to simply be
understood, to be called 'idiot boy' never again. But Edward knew that his
father's anger would never cease, that his mother would never find the
fortitude to open her door and step in. So he gazed long and hard into the
valley with its snow and its wind, and he decided he would rather go
down there instead.
When the sun dipped behind the branches, the temperature plummeted ten
degrees and set the sky to a metallic blue, much like the color of his
father's truck. Just as Edward slid off the tractor seat and made his
way in heavy footsteps through the snow beyond the fence, he could feel
the icy air dropping like water inside his clothes. He wished he could
go back to the house for a new pair of dry gloves and a scarf, so he
could warm himself by the stove and get the chill out before he went off.
He hurried his footsteps away from the property, however. Without the
sound of the tractor cutting through the air, his father would be out at
any moment with his rage and his punishment.
Edward, in his haste, tumbled down the hill on the other side of the
road. His feet kicked up the powder and his heel caught on a buried
boulder, sending him in a roll to the bottom some forty feet below. And
then he was on his feet again and running as fast as he could through the
deep snow, for he thought he had heard the slam of the back door, and
he knew he needed to run: if his father caught him covered in snow at
the bottom of the hill, on the other side of the fence, off the property
and in the valley, he would surely beat him into a black-and-blue pulp.
That, together with the lost keys, and the lingering thought of one of
his best cows dead, would be too much. So Edward kept running and he
pumped his legs through the deep snow until he finally fell in a heap
several hundred yards into the valley.
He had to gather his breath and think about his next move, so he sat,
with many huge question marks, upon a snow-covered log. He was far
enough away from the house so that he did not fear his father's sudden
appearance out of nowhere, and he welcomed the moment's relief. In his
delirium of sudden change, a fog of futures rolled across his brain in a
rapid drift, never stopping to solidify anything concrete. Instead, he
beheld only a glimpse of hopeful summer lawns and rooms full of love --
somewhere, he guessed, in a strange house, on the other side of the
valley. Some smiles, some meals prepared with care, some freshly washed
sheets into which he could peacefully dream. On the other side of the
valley, in another season, absent of mistake.
He listened for a sound and considered the many times that his father
had appeared out of nowhere. When Edward had overflowed the toilet, he
had turned and found his father there in the bathroom doorway,
appearing without a sound, phantom-like, his hand already raised. At the
dinner table one night Edward had filled his pockets with his mother's
burned steak, and was caught, as if by magic, emptying them below the coffee
grounds in a garbage pail. Even at two years old, just after he had
finished a doodle in red crayon on the nursery room wall, his father had
walked in on air and slapped him clear across the room, sending the
crayon into a spray of crumbled wax across the floor. As the images
froze like broken icicles, the haunting presence of his father became so
thick, even in the valley, even half a mile away, that it got Edward's
legs moving after he caught only a few breaths.
Fear made him forget about his cold body, which had begun, slowly and
unknowingly, to succumb to the elements. It was not long -- perhaps two
miles into his journey to nowhere through the dead underbrush -- that
Edward lost the feeling in his legs and hands. His head swam in a warm
sea of fear, bobbing in disillusion to the sound of a slamming door
miles away, to the crunch of snow on a hilltop unseen, to the advancing
footsteps over boulders and logs toward his running form, phantom
footsteps impaled upon the dead valley. The ghost advanced, quicker than the
wind, quicker than a thousand painful memories and a thousand needles of
pain through his bandaged hands. "He is coming... I had better keep
moving," he willed to the black valley air. "I cannot stop for a very
Somewhere out past Abigail's farm Edward fell. A large toppled tree
had risen suddenly out of the snow-covered valley like a monolith. Its
large dead stumps, under the pale moon, looked much like the raised arms
of his father, exaggerated and gnarled as they twisted in an organic
descent toward his shivering body. In a moment of panic, he attempted to
leap the monstrosity, but his numbed legs could not carry him up and
over. Fully upended, his feet slid along the thick snow-covered bark and
sent his head spinning into a web of branches, where he fell into a
long, dreamy daze.
He laughed finally; he had been lying motionless in the snow for nearly
ten minutes, but finally he laughed. "You're not my wicked horrible
father," he shouted. "You're nothing but a dead, stupid tree, and I'm
stupid for not noticing that you're a dead, stupid tree." He sighed and
watched his frosty breath rise toward the moon. "I'm afraid of nothing.
You hear that you dead, stupid tree? I'm afraid of nothing."
Edward tried to get up. He had every intention of making his way back
across the valley, back across his frantic tracks, back up the hill and
across the road, past the blasted tractor and over the dark fields. He
was going to burst through that back door. He was going to warm his
fingers and then tell his father he was tired of being an idiot. He was
going to tell his father to stop all the shit and just plain let him
live, that no human being deserved his sort of treatment. He would order
his mother to his side and, with her arms draped around him, she would
finally come out and tell her husband much the same thing. "Leave our
poor boy be -- he's trying very hard to just be." Edward had the whole
scene, in one moment of enormous clarity, perfectly mapped out. But he
could not move his legs, and an incredible warmth began to seep through
his toes as he turned his eyes to the moon and back again.
Then he laughed again -- not at the father-like tree which had upended
him, nor at the crystal vision of confronting his father as it
deteriorated to ridiculous fantasy -- but at the gleaming metal he beheld, just at
the edge of his trouser waist, in the failing moonlight. "The keys,"
he said. "They must have slipped down into my pants somehow. I must have
shaken them out when I fell." In frantic delight, he tried to
maneuver his hands downward to snatch the keys and close his fingers around
them. But the cold biting air had numbed his extremities to uselessness.
After a long struggle during which he exerted every ounce of thawed
muscle to reach those keys, his arms finally fell limp along the bark of
the cold, dead tree. Edward smiled in warm surrender. "I am not the
idiot that I thought," he said in an assured whisper to the invisible
ghost he was quite sure hovered within earshot. "A hole in my pocket...a
freaky thing that could have happened to anyone. The important thing
is, I didn't lose them." Now he considered that perhaps he was no idiot
all along, and that it was only bad luck which had plagued him the
whole of his life, that a backed-up toilet and a burned steak and long
streaks of crayon across the nursery walls could have happened to just
about anyone. All along, he thought in a frosty ball, all he needed was a
pocket without a hole. Just a lousy stinking pocket without a hole.
He laid back and watched the moon become swallowed by clouds. He
wished he could have gotten up to start that tractor, to fill the night with
sound, to plow hard into a wall of snow and forever drown out his
father's shouts. Yes, clear the drive of snow and fill the night with sound:
that was his only wish now. That was all he wanted as he drifted into
his warm sleep.
©2002 by Tim Wenzell